Respectful Insolence

Well, now I’m really in a pickle as far as the 2008 Presidential election goes. I really don’t like Hillary Clinton and consider Barack Obama not ready for prime time; i.e., he’s too inexperienced and too liberal for my liking. On the other hand, I used to like John McCain–at least until he started pandering to the religious right and became a cheerleader for the Iraq war. Now I have another reason not to vote for John McCain, which leaves me with not a single Presidential candidate that I can see myself voting for right now.

John McCain has credulously fallen for the blandishments of antivaccinationists:

At a town hall meeting Friday in Texas, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., declared that “there’s strong evidence” that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that was once in many childhood vaccines, is responsible for the increased diagnoses of autism in the U.S. — a position in stark contrast with the view of the medical establishment.

McCain was responding to a question from the mother of a boy with autism, who asked about a recent story that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program had issued a judgment in favor of an unnamed child whose family claimed regressive encephalopathy and symptoms of autism were caused by thimerosal.

“We’ve been waiting for years for kind of a responsible answer to this question, and are hoping that you can help us out there,” the woman said.

McCain said, per ABC News’ Bret Hovell, that “It’s indisputable that (autism) is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.”

McCain said there’s “divided scientific opinion” on the matter, with “many on the other side that are credible scientists that are saying that’s not the cause of it.”

No, no, no, no, no!

In elevating the pseudoscience of the antivaccinationists to the same level of the multiple studies that show no link between thimerosal and autism, McCain has at the very minimum fallen for the fallacy that there are two scientific sides to this issue when there are not and at the maximum has fallen for the now discredited idea that mercury in vaccines is responsible for an “autism epidemic.”

To his credit, Jake Tapper points out that McCain is full of crap on this issue:

The established medical community is not as divided as McCain made it sound, however. Overwhelmingly the “credible scientists,” at least as the government and the medical establishment so ordain them, side against McCain’s view.

Moreover, those scientists and organizations fear that powerful people lending credence to the thimerosal theory could dissuade parents from getting their children immunized — which in their view would lead to a very real health crisis.

Exactly. John McCain has really stepped in it for sure. Worse, he probably doesn’t have the slightest clue just how much he’s stepped in it. Already, the antivaccinationists and mercury militia over at the Age of Autism are gloating about this and urging their readers to leave comments on the ABC Blog.

McCain needs to replace his medical and scientific advisors forthwith and find some who understand science and clinical trials. I suppose I should have seen it coming when he agreed to give the keynote address for the Discovery Institute last year. Credulity towards one form of pseudoscience is, sadly, often accompanied by credulity towards other forms of pseudoscience. This is worse, though, than pandering to creationists. Presidents don’t have much power to determine how evolution is taught at the local school lever, but he does have enormous power over the public health apparatus of the nation in the form of the CDC, FDA, and NIH. Encouraging antivaccinationists can lead to a public health disaster in the form of the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Either that, or McCain is just pandering again.

Comments

  1. #1 Kerry Maxwell
    March 1, 2008

    I can only hope this is catastrophic for Insane McCain’s campaign. As the parents of two autistic children, my wife and I are horrified that this idiocy seems to be escalating in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.

  2. #2 Samantha Vimes
    March 1, 2008

    McCain has also avoided answering whether he thinks condom use can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

  3. #3 Rua
    March 1, 2008

    Obama is “too liberal”?Please-by proper civilized standards(i.e. European), outside of the bizarre two-party system you have, both of the democrat nominees in the running for the job are right-wing hacks.

    see http://www.politicalcompass.org/usprimaries2008

    but I can’t disagree with you that McCain is full of crap-on the subject of autism and pretty much everything else he opens his mouth on.

  4. #4 Jim RL
    March 1, 2008

    Samantha, in fairness the uber-maverick said he was going to check to find out his position on contraceptive use. He’s a straight talker, so he won’t respond off the cuff as to whether condoms prevent HIV transmission.

    Orac, John McCain became a cheerleader for the Iraq war before it even began. That’s not new. He was one the loudest supporters telling us how easy it would be.

  5. #5 Abel Pharmboy
    March 1, 2008

    This is the perfect example of where ScienceDebate2008 could draw out the fallacious reasoning that might underlie the potential science policy of each candidate. Critics of ScienceDebate2008 have suggested the debate would have no value if it were a simply a “science quiz.” Instead, I think it could succeed if questioning was along the lines of science issues that appeal to the public, such as the now-extensively discredited association between thimerosal and autism rates.

    If McCain’s years in the Senate and current science advisors lead him to really believe this, I concur that his administration would be prone to applying pseudoscience (or deferring to pseudoscientific advisors) in national health and science policy.

    Great post – and good on Jake Tapper for calling bullshit on McCain’s stance. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  6. #6 PalMD
    March 1, 2008

    the uber-maverick said he was going to check to find out his position on contraceptive use. He’s a straight talker, so he won’t respond off the cuff as to whether condoms prevent HIV transmission.

    Really, it shouldn’t take a science advisor to figure out that condoms prevent HIV.

  7. #7 Joseph
    March 1, 2008

    On the one hand, it could be that he was just fed faulty information. On the other, I wonder if it’s the position he was advised to take politically. Anti-vaxers might tend to be conservative.

  8. #8 gimpy
    March 1, 2008

    Hey, at least it’s not as mind bogglingly stupid as this speech from one of our MPs in which he supported the use of homeopathy in AIDS and malaria cases.
    The real question is should politicians pontificate on science? Almost none of them understand it and the general public don’t care too much either. The real issue is whether politicians are prepared to defer to expertise when making policy decisions based on science or whether lowest common denominator populism wins out.

    PS Obama liberal? Tony Blair is more liberal and leftwing than Obama. But it’s your election and the last time a bunch of liberal Europeans thought they knew best it backfired badly.

  9. #9 Oldfart
    March 1, 2008

    Since he recently enthusiastically accepted an endorsement by a known bigot and spewer of religious hatred, Christians United for Israel “Pastor” John Hagee , why would this surprise you? Since he sold out to the neo-cons and decided that torture wasn’t such a bad thing, why would this surprise you? What surprises me is that you would consider a Bush-clone at all. I would pick either of the Democratic candidates over anything the Repugnants can come up with.

  10. #10 ekchung
    March 1, 2008

    This is all very troubling. I can’t remember if McCain has said he “believed” in evolution, but speaking at the Discovery Institute is never a good thing.

    Don’t worry, Orac. Once the candidates are decided, the Democratic nominee will start veering rightwards, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. Once that happens, you’ll be more comfortable voting for him/her.

    @PalMD: Word

    @Jospeh: I hope we reach the day when its never politically expedient to take a scientifically indefensible position.

  11. #11 Orac
    March 1, 2008

    On the one hand, it could be that he was just fed faulty information. On the other, I wonder if it’s the position he was advised to take politically. Anti-vaxers might tend to be conservative.

    I doubt that. Antivaxers come from the entire spectrum, liberal to conservative. All they share in common is a hatred of vaccines, conspiracy-mongering (for liberals it tends to be more against big pharma and for conservatives against government agencies, like the CDC, etc.).

  12. #12 Samantha Vimes
    March 1, 2008

    He wasn’t being asked about HIV only (although, seriously, he’d have to be pretty ignorant not to know), but STDs in general. Which anyone in the military would have been taught to use condoms to protect themselves against. Uncle Sam doesn’t like having all the boys needing antibiotics after leave. So he’s heard the information. He either
    1. refused to believe the science or
    2. is faking ignorance so as not to offend the Purity Patrols on the right.

  13. #13 Orac
    March 1, 2008

    Orac, John McCain became a cheerleader for the Iraq war before it even began. That’s not new. He was one the loudest supporters telling us how easy it would be.

    I know that. I was referring to the 2000 election, where I supported McCain over our current President. The Iraq war had not yet occurred then.

  14. #14 factician
    March 1, 2008

    Alone of all the candidates, Clinton has committed to doubling the NIH budget over 10 years, in addition to raising the budget of the NSF and the DoE research budget.

    As a post-doc that would some day like to be employed, that’s a pretty strong draw. (Not that my opinion matters. I’m not a citizen, I can’t vote).

  15. #15 Sid Schwab
    March 1, 2008

    For all his “straight talk” meme, McCain is, in fact, as much a panderer as any politician, and more than many: his reversal on waterboarding was staggering. As was his switch on whether Falwell and Robertson were agents of hatred. And now that anti-Catholic spewer of insanity, Hagee. And his constant carping that withdrawing from Iraq would be surrendering to al Queda, when it seems obvious that in al Queda’s most vivid wet-dream they couldn’t have hoped for the phantasm of getting the US bogged down in Iraq, at the cost of lives and dollars and recruitment…. I’m sure you’ve heard it all. So I find him disturbing, and not a little nasty.

    Here’s the thing about Obama and his liberalism: when has a presidential plan ever gone through Congress unchanged? His message — and I assume he means it (and if not, well, what could be worse than now?) — of change from the bottom up actually has meaning in a democracy that works as it should: what if he won and implored people to keep pressure on their representatives, through letters, through email, insisting that things be addressed rather than politicized? Aren’t you tired of the politics of attack ads and diversions about lapel pins? If people from all sides insisted their “leaders” stop the bullshit and start working on issues, might it not actually become better? No matter the outcome (unpredictable), if, say they worked on healthcare until they came up with compromises that could reach consensus, wouldn’t that be a good thing? I see Obama’s message as a starting point, not an end in itself; with at least a little promise that the change to which he refers, if insisted on after the election, could actually result in solutions. But then, I believed in the tooth fairly until I was 23. (I’m working on a post about this for tomorrow.)

  16. #16 George
    March 1, 2008

    Sorry to tell you, but McCain is also IDiot. He has supported teaching the controversy in school science classes. Face it the man is pandering because he is so desparate to win. Is that a person you want in office – not me.

  17. #17 marcia
    March 1, 2008

    I couldn’t even begin to think of supporting that 100 year, multi-trillion dollar warmonger. Are we forgetting that that money could have gone to medical research? Instead it will go to defense contractors and there will be monstrous health care costs for veterans for the next 60 years because of this debacle.

    Oh. And, McCain’s LCV score?
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap_campaignplus/20080221/ap_ca/on_the2008_trail_13

    That autism stuff is minor compared to how he would continue the recent eight years of hell.

    Sorry, I couldn’t vote for that napalm hero:

    “A day or two after the conflagration, McCain told New York Times reporter R. W. Apple, Jr. in Saigon that, “It’s a difficult thing to say. But now that I’ve seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McCain

  18. #18 Richard
    March 1, 2008

    In any other country Obama and Clinton would be called “centrists” and McCain would be considered a hard-right reactionary. McCain’s support of the DI crowd, the anti-vaxers, and idiotic wars is more than enough to discount him as a reasonable choice for President. He ain’t going to suddenly become sensible if he wins. Wishful thinking hasn’t performed well over the past 7 years.

  19. #19 Lucas McCarty
    March 1, 2008

    McCain vs Clinton vs Obama. Whoever wins, we lose.

  20. #20 Prometheus
    March 1, 2008

    Once again, the mercury-causes-autism fanatics show their impaired reality testing. I remember not too long ago that they were trumpeting the same sort of meaningless statement from Hillary Clinton.

    When will they ever learn? Politicians will say ANYTHING that they think might earn them more votes. I doubt that McCain will remember anything about this next month, let alone after the election (if he were to win). But see how many votes it’s gotten him!

    Perhaps I’m just cynical, but I don’t see a great deal of difference between the various candidates (with the possible exceptions of Ron Paul – who appears to be insane – and Ralph Nader – who appears to be locked in a time-loop).

    Their overarching goal is to get elected. After that, their primary goal will be to get re-elected. Everything else is secondary.

    Prometheus

  21. #21 Bronze Dog
    March 1, 2008

    McCain vs Clinton vs Obama. Whoever wins, we lose.

    I hated the ‘vote for the lesser evil’ mentality, which is why I’ve occasionally voted “none of the above”. I don’t suppose it matters too much in my case, since I’m in Texas. I’ll get canceled out quite easily, no matter who I vote for.

    I don’t suffer from voter apathy. I suffer from voter cynicism.

  22. #22 David Marjanović
    March 1, 2008

    Obama is “too liberal”?Please-by proper civilized standards(i.e. European), outside of the bizarre two-party system you have, both of the democrat nominees in the running for the job are right-wing hacks.

    “Right-wing hacks” is exaggerated, but…

    In any other country Obama and Clinton would be called “centrists” and McCain would be considered a hard-right reactionary.

    Let me just confirm this. Where I come from (Austria), Clinton (like Kerry, incidentally) would fit pretty comfortably into the conservative party; Obama would almost fit into the Social Democratic party, but only because that party has drifted so far right over the last 20 years (it’s now slightly right of center) that it has almost reached the conservatives. Check out Germany on politicalcompass.com; the situation there is pretty similar. Some of McCain’s positions could be found around the right fringe of the conservatives, the others (eternal war and torture, for example) are simply off the chart. Obama: centrist; Clinton: mainstream conservative (which is pretty much the same); McCain: beyond good and evil. And yes, I know full well that McCain is outright sane compared to Huckabee or Paul.

    At the risk of kicking loose a monster thread, may I ask you what you find too liberal about Obama…?

  23. #23 David Marjanović
    March 1, 2008

    I don’t suppose it matters too much in my case, since I’m in Texas.

    Three cheers for the electoral college.

  24. #24 Matt Penfold
    March 1, 2008

    The idea that Obama is somwhere over to the left is laughable.

    I took the test at PolticalCompass.com, and came somewhere in the middle of the bottom left quadrant. In US terms that puts me on an extreme, in Europe it puts me slightly to the left.

    Obama by any reasonable measure is NOT a liberal, and those who think he his need to get out more.

    I mean, as far as I can tell he rejects the concept of universal healthcare such as you find in Europe. That alone would seem to disqualify him from being a liberal.

  25. #25 Rev Matt
    March 1, 2008

    From my perspective, Clinton is center-right, Obama is center, and McCain is right wing. Edwards, Dodd or Kucinich were the only ones who could claim anything left of center and only Edwards stood any real chance.

    Vote for the Green candidate, whomever they may be. Or Libertarian. Anything to protest the ‘two party’ system of center-right versus far-right we have in this country.

  26. #26 Jesse
    March 1, 2008

    Orac, the link to the McCain-DI speech is the same link as to the Ageofautism link. Is the McCain-DI story in a comment there?

  27. #27 Coin
    March 1, 2008

    I suppose I should have seen it coming when he agreed to give the keynote address for the Discovery Institute last year

    REALLY minor point here– your link there is messed up so I don’t know exactly what you were trying to point to there, but this is not actually accurate. What happened last year was that CityClub of Seattle and the Seattle World Affairs Council held a luncheon/fundraiser/presentation by John McCain, with as far as I can tell the subject of the talk being foreign policy. This event had two corporate sponsors and nine “co-presenting organizations” (all Seattle-area), one of which happened to be the Discovery Institute.

    Following the announcement of this talk, the Discovery Institute issued a press release that made it sound as if they had basically orchestrated the entire thing themselves and CityClub and the Seattle World Affairs Council were the minor co-sponsors. Then Think Progress picked up the Discovery Institute press release and ran a “story” that stripped out what little context the Discovery Institute included and somehow inserted the word “keynote”. Then about nine zillion blogs linked to the Think Progress story, which promptly became the generally-accepted version of events.

    Now, this entire event does raise some serious and troubling questions about John McCain. What was he communicating by speaking at an event co-sponsored by creationists? Does he endorse the message of the Discovery Institute, does he reject that message, does he believe that presidential candidates should not have an opinion on religion versus scientific integrity? These questions are especially important given McCain’s statements on autism you link above, but to my knowledge McCain has never addressed them. But, as problematic as this is for McCain, I think it’s important to be clear about exactly what it was McCain did with the Discovery Institute…

  28. #28 Dan
    March 1, 2008

    Orac wrote:

    Now I have another reason not to vote for John McCain, which leaves me with not a single Presidential candidate that I can see myself voting for right now.

    Orac, I increasingly find myself in precisely the same difficult position. Happily, though, I think I’ve got the perfect solution. I’m writing in my parents’ shih-tzu, who we lovingly refer to as the Fat Little Bastard (FLB for short). Before you laugh this off, think about his virtues as a candidate and potential President.

    First off, he’s pretty smart. Unlike the other candidates, he knows enough not to shit the carpet of the house he lives in. Which is nice. He doesn’t pander to religious bigots: he’s never even been to church, not once in his 8 years (that, of course, translates to 56 in people years, which means he satisfies the constitutional age requirement). He has no objection at all to vaccinations — as long as you give him a treat afterwords. And he’s clearly opposed to the Iraq war. I know this because my Mom asked him “Are you opposed to the Iraq war?” He barked twice, which is, of course, the universally-accepted signal for “Get us the fuck out of Iraq.” Finally, he can’t stand George W. Bush. Every time Bush shows up on TV for a news conference, FLB goes outside to take a huge dump.

    So what do you say? Let’s get a grassroots campaign going — FLB for President. All we need to do is agree on an official campaign slogan. I’m torn between “No Dog Shit Here” and “At Least He’s Better Than Nader”. Let me know if we can count you among our ever-growing voting bloc of supporters (so far me, my wife and kids and parents).

  29. #29 The Crack Emcee
    March 1, 2008

    Orac,

    Relax, he’ll change up. That’s one of the things I like about McCain: He’s reasonable. Once he sees the evidence, he’ll be the best advocate our side ever had – watch.

    And Obama? You kids have got to stop drinking that Kool-Aid:

    It’s obviously strong stuff.

    And to “Rua”:

    If European standards are the “proper civilized” ones, why did they spend so much time colonizing people and killing themselves? Seems to me, we Yanks are the only civilized people on the planet for finally stopping it, but (I know) it’s just not fashionable to give us credit for accomplishing those things the rest of you can’t seem to do yourselves.

    Losers.

  30. #30 Dangerous Bacon
    March 1, 2008

    I wonder if McCain’s endorsement of the thimerosal theory is a part of his election strategy.

    As noted, he has bent over backwards (or just bent over, period) to placate the right-wing Christian element of his party, including sucking up to the anti-Catholic, anti-gay bigot, televangelist John Hagee in Texas, and Ohio’s own political evangelical meddler, Rod Parsley.
    Maybe McCain thinks that by pandering to the antivax element he can snag a bunch of Ron Paul worshippers.

    By the way, I had to respond to this sentiment (expressed by multiple posters):

    “In any other country Obama and Clinton would be called “centrists” and McCain would be considered a hard-right reactionary”

    Many Americans (including me) don’t give a rat’s ass how our candidates would appear on the political spectrum in Europe or elsewhere. We support and elect people based on our own standards (London’s mayor would have trouble getting elected anywhere here outside of Berkeley, California). During our quaint two-party primary seasons, anyway, the Democrats are to some degree left of center and the Republicans are right of center. After the conventions the candidates will suddenly discover how in tune they are with the centrist masses. ;)

  31. #31 James K
    March 1, 2008

    As a semi-libertarian I can understand your concerns over Obama. However, if I were an American citizen I would probably vote for him. His health care plan is a bit worrying, but he has Austen Goolsbe as an advisor, an economist with impeccable Chicago credentials.

    I’m half-convinced he’s pandering on NAFTA, but I wish I could be sure.

  32. #32 Bruce
    March 2, 2008

    So a heavy metal introduced into a young Childs body is not bad?

    Think about it.

    Fish are taken off market for this dilemma. So what about introducing it into an infant or toddlers body? Think that is a good idea. Don’t think so. No matter what the scientists say it is an accident waiting to happen.

  33. #33 donaldinks
    March 2, 2008

    Let’s just solve the issue forever…and be done with it. Stop producing single-dose vaccines and go to multi vaccine manufacturing…and take out Thimerosal. No Thimerosal, no more possible link…and no more controversy.

    They did it with childrens multi-vaccinations…they can do it with flu vaccines…ALL vaccines.

  34. #34 Kerry Maxwell
    March 2, 2008

    It’s PolticalCompass.ORG for those who want to see if they’d be considered left-wing in Latvia.

  35. #35 Orac
    March 2, 2008

    Stop producing single-dose vaccines and go to multi vaccine manufacturing…and take out Thimerosal. No Thimerosal, no more possible link…and no more controversy.

    Uh, you have it backwards. Thimerosal was used as a preservative and antibacterial in multidose vaccine vials to prevent contamination from multiple accesses of the vial. Single dose vaccines don’t need it. Also, they did take the thimerosal out of all childhood vaccines six years ago. Finally, there are thimerosal-free versions of the flu vaccine. In any case, once again, there is no scientific support for the claim that thimerosal used in vaccines is harmful, causes autism, or does anything else.

    One thing you neglect is cost. Sure, in western countries like the U.S., we can afford the added cost of using only single dose vaccines, but in impoverished areas where every dose of vaccine counts, it’s not such a simple issue. But, hey, antivaccinationists will say “screw ‘em.” Or maybe they think they’d be doing them a favor by making it harder for them to be vaccinated.

  36. #36 MartinM
    March 2, 2008

    No Thimerosal, no more possible link…and no more controversy.

    Alternatively, the loons simply move on to a different ingredient.

  37. #38 Orac
    March 2, 2008

    That the Times printed that story the way it did shows how UK journalists often don’t understand U.S. politics very well. Lots of political candidates say they are going to appoint members of the other party to high-ranking Cabinet positions. Few actually do it in more than a token fashion. Candidates like to say such things during the campaign to show how “independent of party labels” they are.

    They usually aren’t, and I highly doubt that Obama is any exception. American journalists and voters understand this and take claims that members of the other party will be appointed after a candidate is elected with a huge grain of salt.

    As for all the oh-so-self-righteous comments I seem to be getting about how “un-liberal” American liberals are compared to the “real” (and apparently European) definitions of “liberal” and “conservative,” quite frankly I don’t care and I’m sick of seeing them. Indeed, such comments do nothing more than irritate me; from my perspective they appear to serve primarily as a means for smug Europeans to try to try to trumpet how superior and “civilized” they think they are compared to us poor, deluded, fascistic yokels across the pond, rather than to advance any sort of meaningful discourse. (This was perhaps best exemplified by the comment about how by “civilized” standards Obama is not a liberal.) It would be just as meaningful for me to say that, by American standards, European politicians are basically Communists–in other words, not very.

    I don’t live in Europe. I am a U.S. citizen. I have to decide for whom to vote in the U.S. based on U.S. politics and my personal political beliefs, which I only rarely discuss on this blog. The main reasons I only rarely discuss politics are two-fold:

    1. Political bloggers are a dime a dozen (actually a dime a gross) and very few have anything interesting, inciteful, or useful to say. I usually want to stick to my strengths, although there are times when I can’t resist the temptation.

    2. The center of gravity of SBs is indeed so far to the left in general political outlook to me that I don’t really want to get into shitstorms over ideology or politics. I’d much rather deal with shitstorms over taking down irrationality in the form of quackery and pseudoscience. People don’t believe me when I say it, but I truly am one of the three or four most “conservative” ScienceBloggers here. Of course, by “American” standards, that makes me more or less centrist and by those oh-so-civilized European standards, I guess I must be bordering on being a raging fascist.

  38. #39 UK Skeptic
    March 2, 2008

    It is true that the whole political spectrum in the US is shifted well to the right of Europe, or if you prefer the European spectrum is shifted well to the left of the US. But at the level of “doing business”, that never seems to have been too much of a problem, at least until the last seven years…

    People outside the US (not just in Europe) will be automatically suspicious of McCain, I would say, simply because he is a Republican, as are the current administration. The current crew are widely viewed in Europe (all the way across the political spectrum) as incompetent ideologues. I would suspect the same view prevails through most of the rest of the world.

    There, I’ve said it.

    Anyway, what most people in Europe (and again I suspect most of the rest of the world too) are hoping for from the 2008 election is “something as different to the current US administration as possible”. Of the candidates, Obama looks the most like that, and McCain the least. The more McCain is seen pitching to the conservative base, the more that impression will be reinforced.

    Finally, although the US’s greatest influence on events in Europe is via the Global Economy, I think it is mainly only US foreign policy that really provokes strong reactions over here. Currently it is specifically Iraq, which dwarfs all other issues, just as Vietnam did back in the 60s, the Cold War did in the 80s, and mid-East policy did in the 90s. In contrast, the US domestic scene is largely a mystery to Europeans, beyond the fact that the heavily religious-inflected social ultra-conservatism of parts of the US Right is seen as weird, as is the whole Gun Control issue.

    Finally, to get back to the thread, can I say that I agree with Orac that Woo transcends the political spectrum – that is certainly true here in the UK. However, McCain does sound like he needs to get some proper science advisers double-pronto, though. There must be plenty of competent scientists in the US with political views aligned with his – I’ve certainly met plenty.

    PS Yes, yes, I know you guys in the US don’t give a s*!t what Europeans think about you – I used to work in the US. But as we were talking about it I thought I would try and summarize…

  39. #40 DLC
    March 2, 2008

    I had no idea McCain was drinking the Mercury Militia koolaid. That he supports “Teaching the controversy” is not new to me.

  40. #41 DuWayne
    March 2, 2008

    …and by those oh-so-civilized European standards, I guess I must be bordering on being a raging fascist.

    You know, I wasn’t going to say anything, but now that you mention it…

    Seriously though, I too get really tired of hearing this sort of crap. That as an American who actually bemoans the right of center to hard right, that is American electoral politics. While I would love to see American politics take a turn to the left of center, the only way that is possibly going to work, is if the rest of the “civilized” world gets a dose of reality and moves a bit the other way, to pick up some of the slack.

    Yes, American foreign policicy sucks. But it’s one of the strongest games in town. Absolutely we need to pull back some, but if we do, others need to be there to pick up the slack. Other countries need to intervene more and more sensibly than the U.S. Too, other countries need to pick up some of the slack for drug development and manufacture. I am not all that keen on subsidizing the drugs of most every “civilized” country in the world, at the cost of not being able to afford the drugs, living in the country of their origin.

    It’s easy to be critical of the U.S., living in a more progressive society. A society that can afford to be so progressive in part, because the U.S. is the way that it is.

    Too, I question the label of progressive, or liberal, when applied to countries that pass draconian speech restrictions. I’m sorry, but it is a mainstay of totalitarianism, to restrict the freedom of expression – especially political expression. Excepting the very narrowest of imminent harm restrictions, and outright fraud, any abridgment of the freedom of expression, is absolutely contrary to a free, liberal society.

    So please, be as smug and patronizing as you like. Just remember that it is a two way street. While I am perfectly clear on many of my own country’s problems, I suspect that many of you liberal nation types, don’t see many of the problems in your own house.

  41. #42 gimpy
    March 3, 2008

    Too, other countries need to pick up some of the slack for drug development and manufacture. I am not all that keen on subsidizing the drugs of most every “civilized” country in the world, at the cost of not being able to afford the drugs, living in the country of their origin.

    Hold on a minute, do you have any evidence to support this statement? To this European it seems utterly absurd. Most drug companies have profits in the billions and operate in a free market economy so it is difficult to believe that the USA are subsidising the costs of the rest of the worlds medication. What happens in most of Europe is that drugs are bought by states which negotiate the price with the manufacturers. If there was no profit for the companies they wouldn’t sell drugs to Europe.

    PS I think you are right on freedom of expression and there is much to admire in the US on this but I am always reminded of the furore over Janet Jackson’s tassel clad nipple and the ludicrous fines and draconian policies that resulted from it. It’s never freedom when money is used to control freedom of expression whether that be through the UK’s draconian libel laws or heavy fines on the media in the US.

  42. #43 Matt Penfold
    March 3, 2008

    “As for all the oh-so-self-righteous comments I seem to be getting about how “un-liberal” American liberals are compared to the “real” (and apparently European) definitions of “liberal” and “conservative,” quite frankly I don’t care and I’m sick of seeing them”

    Orac, this is when you start looking like an arsehole. Words have meanings, and it is pretty clear that you are not using the term liberal in the conventional sense of the word (i.e, favouring the rights of the individual over those of the state, supporting efforts to improve equality of opportunity). That is fine of course, you can use words to mean whatever you want to mean, along as as you understand when you use them outside of their normal meaning you are likely to be picked up on it. That you then complain tells us more about the sort of person you than the people pointing out your non-normal usage. That you further call Europeans smug just suggests that there is some rather deep seated xenophobia lurking around.

    In short Orac, use words in anyway you want, but do not complain when you use them in a non-standard way and get misunderstood. If that irritates you, then good. You deserve it.

  43. #44 Laser Potato
    March 3, 2008

    OBVIOUS TROLL IS OBVIOUS

  44. #45 Orac
    March 3, 2008

    Matt,

    In the context of U.S. politics, I was not using the terms in a non-standard way; sorry if it doesn’t correspond to the “civilized” meanings that I’m being lectured on. If you don’t like that and think I’m an asshole for using them that way, I really don’t care that much. Well, maybe enough to tell you I’m not going to change, but that’s about it.

  45. #46 Matt Penfold
    March 3, 2008

    The Collins dictionary lists the following uses for “liberal”.

    1. Relating to or having social and political views that favour progress and reform.
    2. Relating to or having policies and views advocating individual freedom.
    3. Giving and generous in temperament or behaviour.
    4. Tolerant of other people.
    5. Abundant, lavish.
    6. Not strict; free.
    7. Of or relating to an education that aims to develop general cultural interests and intellectual ability.
    8. A person who has liberal ideas or opinions.

  46. #47 Laser Potato
    March 3, 2008

    “So a heavy metal introduced into a young Childs body is not bad?
    Think about it.
    Fish are taken off market for this dilemma. So what about introducing it into an infant or toddlers body? Think that is a good idea. Don’t think so. No matter what the scientists say it is an accident waiting to happen.”

    Even rainwater has up to a nanogram of mercury per liter, genius. Anyone who believes that mercury is toxic in nanogram quantities has to explain why they aren’t already dead. It’s like claiming you have a fatal allergy to any type of salt.

  47. #48 Matt Penfold
    March 3, 2008

    Orac,

    Would you care to tell us which of the Collins uses was the one you were using, or if none of the match tell us which dictionary does. Only looking at the Collins definitions the uses in a poltical sense would seem to be #1, #2, #3 and #7, and there would not be anything in those definitions that a civilised person would not be willing to identify with.

  48. #49 Laser Potato
    March 3, 2008

    Argument from Misleading Definition.
    Ahem…
    Argument from Misleading Definition is an informal logical fallacy where an individual misapplies a definition of a word under discussion. Usually this is either a citation to a dictionary definition where the word is being used in a specialist sense that is not reflected by mainstream dictionaries, uses an outdated dictionary that does not reflect current usage, or alternatively appeals to the underlying history of the word, not realizing that the words etymology does not reflect its meaning. Implicit in this fallacy is the idea that any use of the word that does not reflect this specific definition is wrong, and any idea using these differing uses is incorrect and ill-thought-out.
    It is a fallacy (and usually an example of the equivocation fallacy) because words can have multiple meanings, sometimes quite at odds with each other, and because these meanings can change. Dictionaries, in particular, are often very conservative and do not reflect recent developments, whether cultural or scientific.

    http://skepticwiki.org/index.php/Argument_from_Misleading_Definition

  49. #50 Matt Penfold
    March 3, 2008

    Laser Potato,

    I used the term usage, not definition.

    If the term liberal was being used by Orac in a specialised sense then he cannot have been using in a common usage.

    The dictionary in question is an edition published in 2007.

    So how ever you play it, Orac’s use of the term liberal does not seem to be reflected in the uses Collins lists for it. Given it is a modern dictionary that lists Commonwealth and US uses of words along with British, then it would seem contradict Orac’s claim that his usage is common.

  50. #51 Lilly de Lure
    March 3, 2008

    So how ever you play it, Orac’s use of the term liberal does not seem to be reflected in the uses Collins lists for it. Given it is a modern dictionary that lists Commonwealth and US uses of words along with British, then it would seem contradict Orac’s claim that his usage is common.

    Maybe not by the use Collins lists for it but in terms of American political discourse I for one understood exactly what he meant and where in the political spectrum he was refering to without any difficulty. Since I’m from Europe this does undermine the idea that Orac is using the word Liberal in some new, incorrect and confusing way.

    I am at a loss to understand why the European definitions of right and left wing politics are automatically being described as the “real” ones – since we are talking about American politics at the moment surely the American definitions should take precedence in this particular discussion?

  51. #52 iain
    March 3, 2008

    The discussion over definitions is a red herring. The point is that many of Orac’s readers were paying him a compliment: since he’s so sensible about all the things he writes about here, they assumed he’d have sensible views about who to vote for. Given that McCain panders to the religious far-right, doesn’t know whether condoms prevent the transmission of AIDS, verbally opposes torture but fails to vote against it, they were understandably surprised/aghast to find that Orac used to like him. To be fair to Orac, it’s possible to interpret that bit to mean ‘I used to like him until I found out what he’s actually like’.
    Even if Orac can’t get enthusiastic about voting for the Democratic nominee, let’s hope he manages to cast a vote against McCain.

  52. #53 DuWayne
    March 3, 2008

    Gimpy -

    If the drug companies did not have Americans to soak for the huge profits, do you honestly think that your country could negotiate the prices they do? It is as cheep as it is for you, because it is as expensive as it is for me. Having spent a fair amount of time uninsured, the pricing means that I have regularly forgone taking medications that I have been prescribed, because I can’t afford them.

    I am not trying to begrudge you the fact that the drugs are so cheap for you. Nor am I blaming you or your government for it. I am merely trying to illustrate one reason your country can afford to be as forthcoming with the care, is because the U.S. is the way that it is.

    It is just too easy to sit somewhere that benefits from the things that America does and insult the backwards, barbaric Americans. Especially when many of the very things that draw such disdain from foreign quarters, ultimately benefit folks in those foreign quarters. America may do a lot of things piss poorly and even absolutely wrong, but we do it, where a lot of the world just doesn’t.

    Matt Penefold -

    Good grief your a pedantic ass. You’re also about as civilized as my old roomie’s pitbull. If you don’t care for the vernacular, feel free not to take part in the discussion. Gods know why you would wish to sully yourself in the pits of us ignorant, uncivilized Americans anyways.

    I do have a rather uncivilized thought on what you could do with your dictionary. Eneman might object though.

  53. #54 gimpy
    March 4, 2008

    DuWayne If the drug companies did not have Americans to soak for the huge profits, do you honestly think that your country could negotiate the prices they do? It is as cheep as it is for you, because it is as expensive as it is for me. Having spent a fair amount of time uninsured, the pricing means that I have regularly forgone taking medications that I have been prescribed, because I can’t afford them.

    I’m going to have to call you out on this. I need evidence supporting this statement from credible sources. Like most readers of this blog I assume you have a rational sceptical outlook and recognise that anecdote and personal opinion aren’t the best arbiters of factual veracity. It seems you might be willing to abandon this outlook over matters of ideology (as do I, tbh), I question whether you can substantiate this claim?
    To me it seems the price disparity can be better explained by the lack of collective purchasing power in the states for consumers, dubious patent enforcements, trade restrictions against generics and the low value of the US$ compared to other currencies.

  54. #55 Martin Robbins
    March 4, 2008

    Frankly, you go on (rightly) about McCain, but as I’ve just been writing about myself, Obama and Clinton are at least as bad :( http://layscience.net/?q=node/55

  55. #56 TTT
    March 4, 2008

    Thanks, Orac, for standing up to the Euro-pedants. I’m so tired of being lectured about how American liberals aren’t “real Liberals” because they don’t conform to how the label works in Europe. It’s ethnocentric fiddlefaddle; the intellectual equivalent of saying American colors aren’t real colors because they don’t have the “u”. “Liberal” has different meanings in different places, and in America, where he’s trying to get a job, Barack Obama is a liberal.

  56. #57 DuWayne
    March 4, 2008

    Gimpy -

    It’s common sense man. Are you going to tell me that you honestly believe that given a U.S. collective bargaining power, the drug companies would just give up the massive profits they enjoy with the current U.S. market? They are out for a profit. They are going to continue to seek a profit, even if the massive one’s from the U.S. suddenly drop. If that were to actually happen, it would necessitate raising the prices for everyone else.

    What evidence would you like? Do you not believe that we in the U.S. pay so much for drugs? Or do you believe that drug manufacturers are really that altruistic and disinterested in profits? Right or wrong, corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders to have growing profits, not shrinking ones. If they take a hit on one front, they need to make up for it in other quarters of the market – i.e. the social medicine market.

  57. #58 gimpy
    March 4, 2008

    DuWayne – the ‘its common sense’ argument is fallacious. All I’m asking for is figures, documents or peer reviewed papers arguing that this is indeed the case. You made an assertion, I challenged it, all you have to do to meet my challenge is provide evidence.

  58. #59 Curt
    March 4, 2008

    Good for McCain! Ask yourselves, why the New York Times is willing to go out and conduct a study of mercury in tuna if affluent Manhattanites could be harmed, but the Gray Lady is unwilling to report on a court case about mercury in vaccines when the Federal Government ADMITS a girl was harmed. Do you honestly think the U.S. Gov’t would ADMIT vaccines caused a child’s autism if there was NO scientific evidence to support it? If you don’t believe it, you can read the actual court opinion here: autismfathers.com
    -Curt

  59. #60 Orac
    March 4, 2008
  60. #61 Prometheus
    March 4, 2008

    Q: “Do you honestly think the U.S. Gov’t would ADMIT vaccines caused a child’s autism if there was NO scientific evidence to support it?”

    A: No. That’s why the “U.S. Gov’t” made no such admission.

    Read the actual court documents instead of the breathless prose of the factoid-parrots. If you do that, you’ll find that the “U.S. Gov’t” agreed to pay damages from the VICP because they felt that a vaccine had exacerbated the child’s mitochondrial disorder. Not autism.

    Take a breath and read the actual document – it’s much less exciting, but the reality of it more than compensates.

    Prometheus

  61. #62 DuWayne
    March 4, 2008

    Gimpy -

    What part of my assertion are you arguing is false? That U.S. citizens pay more for drugs? Or that the pharmaceutical manufacturers are going to raise the prices for you, if the U.S. moves to a similar collective bargaining structure?

    For the first, look up the prices of five different scripts, at U.S. pharmacies. Then look up what your government pays for them.

    For the latter, there isn’t peer reviewed evidence out there. You only need to look at the structure of business, especially in the U.S. to see it. Corporations do not take huge hits to their profits, without doing their damndest to make it up. If you think they are just going to say; “screw it, it was good while it lasted,” your stoned. Not gonna happen.

    If I’m missing something else, let me know. I just don’t see what your looking for evidence of.

  62. #63 Heather
    March 4, 2008

    I assume you have seen the NYTimes blurb highlighting the controversial stance McCain took. Personally, I think it is simply a calculated political move on his part. Many voters are not very concerned with science, you know, but they do consume lots of infotainment, and will feel that McCain understands their world.

  63. #64 gimpy
    March 5, 2008

    DuWayne, here is a brief BMJ report from 2005 with a link to a lecture that may be of interest. I haven’t seen it yet so can’t comment on whether it is convincing or not but it certainly seems worth watching.

  64. #65 Mekei
    March 5, 2008

    Duh. Someone may have already hit on this, but I had forgotten John McCain and Don Imus are uber-buddies. Could McCain’s *medical experts* include Mr/Mrs Imus?

  65. #66 ChrisB.
    March 7, 2008

    http://blogs.webmd.com/breaking-news/2008/03/vaccine-ruling-ignites-autism-debate.html

    The debates not over folks . . . not even close. Some of you may want to question who’s “immune to the facts.”

    Note, that I’m not even a McCain supporter, just a truth supporter.

  66. #67 Orac
    March 7, 2008

    Like creationists, ChrisB seems to be confusing a scientific debate with an ideological debate. There is a difference, and one often has little to do with the other. So it is in the vaccine/autism “debate,” where the overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccines do not cause autism matters little to antivaccination activists, who flit from one hypothesis of causation to another as science demolishes them, the only commonality between them being that it’s always–always!–all about the vaccines to them.

    There’s also a difference between a ruling by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, for which the standard of evidence is much lower than in science and where the benefit of the doubt is sometimes given in questionable cases. Finally, this case isn’t even close to showing that vaccines cause autism. Indeed, my reading leads me to believe that it was settled separately from the Omnibus precisely because it is so unusual. It says little or nothing about the “theory of causation” of autism

  67. #68 Bronze Dog
    March 7, 2008

    Do you honestly think the U.S. Gov’t would ADMIT vaccines caused a child’s autism if there was NO scientific evidence to support it?

    1. They didn’t admit any such thing. See Orac’s links.
    2. Since when does the government care about scientific evidence?
    3. What is this evidence?

  68. #69 Rhadamanthus
    March 7, 2008

    Well, the Liberal(conservative) Media(propaganda) arm of the administration is now showing on CNN extended segments on the vaccine ruling, and interviewing the family who’s won.

    Looks like the media is doing their part to continue backing “St. McCain”…

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